France Likely to Probe French Tycoon's Transfer of Funds to Destinations in Israel

Prosecution will also have to decide on the question of a reported direct payment from Arnaud Mimran to Netanyahu. Some 80 percent of proceeds from French 'fraud of the century' are said to have reached Israel.

Arnaud Mimran and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bertrand Guay, AFP/Reuters

PARIS – A Paris prosecutor is expected to launch an investigation into gifts and money from Arnaud Mimran, the main suspect in the so-called “fraud of the century” trial, to destinations in Israel, a legal official in France has told Haaretz.

The Paris district financial prosecutor will have to decide whether to probe the activities of Track Performance Ltd., a company owned jointly by Mimran and French MP Meir Habib, who is a close associate of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prosecution will also have to decide on the question of a reported direct payment from Mimran to Netanyahu, its amount and nature and whether it conformed to French law.

The decision on whether to launch an investigation will be made immediately after the verdict is delivered in the fraud case on July 7.

The source explained that the purpose of the investigation will be to find all the money belonging to Mimran, in the event that he is convicted and obliged to return to the public purse the 283 million euros he allegedly stole, as demanded by the prosecution. That includes money that is not registered in Mimran’s name, including gifts to friends and relatives, investments in straw companies and transfers of cash to front men, most to return fictitious debts.

It is in this context that a question posed by the judge during the trial must be understood, the source said. When Mimran testified that he “funded Netanyahu to the amount of one million euros,” the judge immediately asked whether the transfer was a loan without expectation that it would be repaid. Netanyahu has confirmed receiving money from Mimran, but has disputed the amount and its nature.

French financial police investigators have so far found some 30 million euros in funds smuggled out of France by Mimran. Most of it found its way, at the end of a chain of transfers, to destinations in Israel. There are also assets not registered to Mimran, including a residential building in the 16th arrondissement in Paris that ostensibly belongs to a private company, but is in fact used only by the Mimran family, according to the indictment.

In addition to Mimran’s many payments directly to Israel, tens of millions of euros were smuggled to Israel from the many bank accounts of the other suspects in the alleged fraud. Police have been unable to connect the funds to a specific suspect.

In all, it is estimated that 80 percent of the money from the “fraud of the century” eventually reached Israel, primarily to real estate projects in Tel Aviv and Eilat.

When questioned, Mimran denied ownership of these funds and presented different explanations as to the nature of the payments.

Prominent in legal documents seen by Haaretz and the Mediapart website is a series of fund transfers – amounting to 1.1 million euros – from Mimran’s account at the Safra Bank in New York to a real estate figure from Eilat. The transfers occurred between March 29 and May 3, 2009.

Another transfer – of two million euros – took place at the end of 2010 to Samantha Sweid, the widow of purported French-Israeli crime figure Sami Sweid.

The question of the payment to Netanyahu, about which the latter and Mimran have given different versions, became more complicated this week with the report by Globes reporter Gur Megiddo that Netanyahu confidantes, attorneys Isaac Molho and David Shimron, provided legal services to Arnaud Mimran until at least 2006, and even established a private company for him, by the name of Track Performance Ltd., in which Mimran is a 36 percent shareholder.

The company’s address is listed as 21 Haarba’a Street, “care of E.S. Shimron, I. Molho, Persky & Co.” – the offices of Molho and Shimron’s law firm. Among Mimran’s partners in the Israeli company is also a Netanyahu associate who introduced Mimran and Netanyahu, the French MP Meir Habib.

The Haaretz and Mediapart investigation revealed that the company was registered in the Israeli Embassy in Paris and the founding documents were signed in the embassy’s offices. One of the stockholders registered by the Molho-Shimron law firm is Anna Dray, who is listed as residing in Chile.

The investigation revealed that Dray is Mimran’s ex-wife and the daughter of the late billionaire Claud Dray, in whose murder Mimran is suspected of involvement. Anna Dray told Haaretz and Mediapart that she never founded a company with Mimran, had never been to Chile and had never visited the Israeli Embassy or the offices of Molho-Shimron.

Another shareholder in the company, Pierre Danin, is an old friend of Mimran’s and one of the suspected junior partners in the fraud. On January 9, 2009, almost three years after the company was registered, according to documents shown to Haaretz, Danin transferred $350,000 to Mimran’s account at Safra Bank in New York, from which many payments subsequently went to Israel.

The flow of funds between the partners of Track Performance Ltd. shows the endlessly circuitous monetary transfers between France and Israel in this affair. The questions around it only increase in light of Meir Habib’s response:

“Arnaud Mimran asked me to take part in this company, which he wanted to establish out of his respect for Israel. But to the best of my knowledge, the company was never active, never opened its own bank account and certainly never brought in any money to me.”

A spokesman for the French financial prosecution, prosecutor Jean-Marc Toubin, declined to confirm or deny the report, saying “When the verdict is given, the prosecution will decide whether new elements arose in the trial that require the opening of an investigation. If a decision is made, no announcement from the prosecution will be made and we will not be able to confirm or deny it, because such an announcement could harm the chances of the investigation to succeed.”

David Shimron said in response: “Following [Haaretz’s] approach, we checked the file and found that the registration of the company was done via a concular power of attorney that was sent to us by the embassy in Israel. All the registered owners, with the exception of one, were identified by the Israeli consul in Paris.

In response to the question why the compan was registered by Shimron, Molho and Persky in Israel, Shimron said: “Very simple. Meir Habib was a client and confidante of the firm and he asked us to register the company.”